Pop culture meets ancient puzzles in Cafe Mahjongg, the new game from iWin and Jenkat that is sure to give a "jolt" to casual game fans.
Essentially, it’s the mah jong solitaire tile game you know and love, but is now wrapped in an entertaining Starbucks-esque theme, where you must fill up punch cards – earning new drinks such as White Chocolate Mocha and Chai Tea – by playing through various tile layouts. In the main House Blend mode, you’re greeted by a cafe employee, Katie, who explains how to earn new drinks.
From there, you can choose which tile pattern you’d like to play with, including a coffee theme (mugs, pots, beans), traditional (Asian designs), playing cards, kids or holiday (candy cane, tree ornaments). At any time you can choose different tile patterns.
In case you haven’t yet played a mah jong solitaire game (sometimes referred to as Shanghai or Taipei), this ancient tile-matching pastime challenges players to correctly match and remove two identical tiles from a pile, and doing so removes them from the board. The goal is to clear the board entirely, which then whisks you to the next level after you get a stamp on your coffee card.
But there’s a catch to mah jong games: only the tiles on the top and sides of the pile are available to the player, plus there is more than one possible match per tile design; choose the wrong one and the tiles underneath may become inaccessible so you must choose carefully. Cafe Mahjonng is a bit easier than most other Mahjong games because there are two "holder" spots at the top of the screen, which comes in handy in case you accidentally click on a tile with no visible match.
Some tiles can be paired if they’re related instead of identical, such as matching two kinds of cafe foods like a cinnamon roll with a muffin or a scone and eclair. Problem is, despite a subtle color on the tile to indicate they can be matched, players might not realize at first these two can be paired. Curiously, other related tiles, such as two kinds of coffee pots or two different color mugs, cannot be paired.
If you make a mistake you can click the Hint button, which will reveal an onscreen match for you. When you run out of moves you can choose to reshuffle the remaining tiles or undo your last move, but both of which will cost you a few points.
The background art for these mah jong games also follow the cafe theme, with, say, a newspaper, keys and a coffee cup up on a restaurant table. Even the sound effects, such as change in a drawer and sipping mug, all fit this theme.
After you get eight stamps on one punch card, you get a free beverage and meet with Katie again who gives you some interesting facts about the next drink to earn. Strangely, the difficulty level isn’t progressive, meaning some levels were tough since the tiles were piled high, not giving gamers many options for matching, but then later levels proved super easy because so many tiles were accessible.
A second game mode in Cafe Mahjonng is called Espresso, which dispenses with the story element and lets you play 120 different board layouts. Love it. Plus, you can even import your own photos as a background and create your own mah jong layouts. Sounds great in theory, sure, but I had difficulty in importing selected JPEG photos on my computer, giving them a name and then saving them. Similarly, I experienced trouble in creating a unique layout and saving it to play at a later time. I consider myself to be quite tech-savvy, but perhaps I’m missing something here.
But even with these minor issues, Cafe Mahjonngg is a very fun, attractive and recommended mah jong game – especially for novice players and coffee lovers alike.